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Civic Center ballot measure being considered

Civic Center ballot measure being considered

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A group of Bismarck hotel owners wants to get the expansion of the Bismarck Civic Center on the November ballot.

The expansion would include a 30,000-square-foot to 40,000-square-foot multipurpose room, double the meeting rooms, add a kitchen facility, increase exhibit space and add a new entrance on the west side.

“The idea of this is to turn it more into a meeting center,” Bill Shalhoob said.

The group plans to take the proposal to the Bismarck City Commission on June 26.

Bismarck Mayor John Warford said the city has had a master plan for expanding the Civic Center for two to three years but it had been placed on hold.

The cost to renovate the existing center was estimated at about $35 million four years ago, but might be as high as $50 million due to steeper construction costs, Warford said.

A contracted Minneapolis firm told the city that the arena’s 8,000- to 10,000-person capacity was a good size for the community, he said. Some upgrades to the arena, like updated locker rooms, were suggested but more focus should be given to the convention side, the mayor said.

“We should expand the exhibit side of it because the thing we’re missing as a community is a convention center,” Warford said.

“If we do that, it enhances our opportunity to ensure Bismarck-Mandan is a destination community,” Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce President Kelvin Hullet said.

Under the proposed ballot measure, the expansion would be paid for by increasing the city’s visitors’ tax. The tax would be on liquor sales and hotel reservations, with the emphasis being on the hotel side.

“Most of the tax amount would be coming from people visiting, not Bismarck residents,” businessman Bill Shalhoob said.

Warford said the city makes $1.2 million per year from the visitors’ tax. It would take a 1 percent to 2 percent increase to cover the cost of expanding he said.

Warford said the city paid for the construction of the Exhibit Hall in 1993 with a similar tax increase. He said the bonds for the construction have been fulfilled or are within six months to one year.

Shalhoob said a lot of new hotels are coming to town but none of them could host a large conference. He said there hasn’t been a full service hotel built in Bismarck since 1982.

“There’s a need,” he said. “If anything ever goes wrong on the oil side we should have something to supplement that.”

Shalhoob said a larger Exhibit Hall would more easily accommodate things like the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.

“They ran out of exhibit space at the conference because they need a bigger facility,” Warford said.

An ideal expansion would hold 4,000 to 6,000 people, the mayor said.

“That will put us on the map as a convention town,” he said. “It’s time that Bismarck stepped that facility up.”

Warford said other cities in the state have made offers to host the petroleum conference in the future and he’s worried about losing it and others like it.

“We’re leaving some conventions on the table so to speak because we don’t have a big enough facility,” he said. “This would set the Bismarck-Mandan metro area up for a whole new level of conventions.”

Warford said an expanded Civic Center would not place competition on places like the Best Western Plus Ramkota hotel because it would attract bigger conventions than those locations.

Shalhoob said he and other hotel owners are discussing their proposal with other groups that could be affected, like the Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Downtowners, the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association and the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s good for retail. It’s good for restaurants. It’s good for everyone,” he said. “They’re new dollars generated outside the community and they stay here.”

With a school bond issue on the ballot later this summer, Warford said it will be important for the city to differentiate what people are voting for. He said by taxing visitors, it would minimize the impact on residents making a second tax increase more palatable.

“I think that the community understands the dynamic period we’re in and to compete even with other communities in our region, we’re going to have to be more aggressive and step up our game,” Hullet said.

Reach reporter Jessica Holdman at 250-8261or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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